Saturday, October 31, 2015

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Teaching 3 - Creating Your Own Materials and TeachersPayTeachers

      As I have progressed through my years of teaching (currently sitting at 15+ !) I have learned a great deal.  One of the things that I learned was to not follow the textbook as if it was the end-all-be-
all guide to teaching.  I learned to break away and follow my own sequencing (see pitfall 2 here).  Doing so, however, left me with a problem.  If I was creating my own sequencing and my own lessons then I didn't always have an assignment ready to go.  The work and worksheets that come with the book are designed to follow their sequencing, not mine.  So an epic quest started to find materials that were on a single topic (or similarly related topics) that I could use to give my student practice.

       I began by printing out the textbooks worksheets and using the good old cut it apart and tape parts back together to create a new worksheet.  For a while, this worked.  Eventually, however, I moved further away from the book and started creating my own examples because they better fit what I was trying to teach.  I did this because I often felt that the book was asking them to solve a math problem while jumping rope and singing the alphabet in their over complicated examples.  So my quest continued and led me to start buying worksheet books from the publishing companies and again, for a while this worked.  It solved my problem far better than the cut and paste method did.  Until suddenly I found myself frustrated again with the holes.  I kept thinking there had to be a better way and I started searching online and I found my first TeachersPayTeachers resource.  It matched exactly what I need and it was beautifully made.  I seriously had one of those "heavens opening, beam of light moments".  I'm not kidding, I spent hours on the website searching, bookmarking and loading my cart.  It was like Christmas in September.  I was incredibly happy...until I got switched from Algebra to Geometry and everything I had found and bought was for Algebra.  So back onto TpT I went and discovered that the Geometry resources were a lot more scarce than the Algebra ones...

        By that point, however, I had taught enough years that I was getting really good at creating my own stuff so I used what I learned and started creating high quality Geometry resources that matched the caliber of the Algebra that I had purchased.  One day I decided to share what I was making with other teachers and the  Secondary Math Shop was born. :)   Since I opened a store on there, the caliber of my lessons, activities, diagrams and classroom environment has skyrocketed. I not only make things that are so much more superior to what I used before, but I purchase so many things as well to supplement my lessons!  That's right, while I am a seller, I am also still an avid buyer! :)

I spoke with a few other teacher - authors about their journey to opening their own stores and here is what they had to say.



Apples and Bananas shared "Since we work in an alternative school setting, we found it necessary to create materials that would appropriately scaffold content for a variety of learners. When we realized that the curriculum we were given only reached a handful of our students, we decided to try our hand at creating scaffolded notes and interactive notebook activities, like the products in this Algebra bundle.  We saw that our students were retaining so much more information with this format, and we love that it is general enough to be used with any curriculum."


Nikki from Teaching Autism stated "I started to make my own resources when I realised that there wasn't anything out there that suited the 'class' as a whole. I decided I would have to make it myself! You see, we are very big on inclusion - when our topic is 3 little pigs, we ensure ALL our children, regardless of ability take part in the same 3 little pigs activities, BUT we differentiate them so they are working at the right level for them with just the right amount of challenge. So, I started making my own resources, I had always been good at ICT so thought it would be easy - it's not so easy, trust me, wow I don't know how some of these teachers do it! At first I was using publisher, slowly I got around to powerpoint, then I got brave and started using my macbook instead of my usual windows laptop, investing in clipart that I just KNEW my students would love. The more enthusiasm I put into my resources - the more the children LOVED them! I make the same activity in 5 different levels, yep FIVE. It means all our children are working on the EXACT same activity, yet it's just changed to suit their individual abilities and needs!   Every child is different, which, in my class, means they all need different resources suitable for them. "



History Gal shared that "The textbook and the material that come with it make history boring. Raise your hand if you remember being in history class and being told my your teacher to read pages x - x and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. Who gets excited about doing that? I want students to get excited about history so I created my own activities. My favorites are my historical simulations"




It's Kinder Time I purchased Morning Work for my kinder kiddos and found that some of it was too easy for my kids. I also noticed that sometimes the morning work would have standards I had not taught yet and my kiddos would struggle to complete a supposedly review independent activity. This issue pushed my to take the giant leap and create my own Morning work. You can find it here(Morning Work Bundle). I know my kiddos were able to work through this product independently and were reviewing stands that we covered. It also helped that the weekly practice was repetitive and my kiddos knew what skill they would practice.  I am now working on adding the units that I have created for my classroom to tie in some fun activities as well as hitting the academic standards. Really creating came from wanting to have materials that fit the needs of my kiddos and allowed me to support each kiddos at their level."



Mrs. E from Mrs. E Teaches Math explained that  "I taught honors students and had a very difficult time finding activities and other resources rigorous enough for my students. Most of the activities I found online were way too simple for my students. I started creating my own activities to use in my classroom. One of my coworkers saw the activities I was making and suggested I list them on Teachers pay Teachers."



Coach Christopher from Courage To Core shared  "In my view, most textbooks aren’t sufficiently student-centered. They also tend to cover an incredible breadth of material at the expense of depth, and rarely give students the authority to do more than a series of relatively repetitive practice problems. They are certainly useful resources and particularly so for students who can work and learn independently out of the gate, but I think they don’t work so well for students who are not already performing at a high level. By contrast, having students work in small groups engages and challenges students widely regardless of level. Students must collaborate, articulate, listen, be creative, risk failure, deal with failure, persist, organize, assist, be assisted and actively engage as problem-solvers. Really putting my students to work has worked for them."


The pitfalls are there, just waiting, but hopefully together we can navigate them, avoid them or capitalize upon them to the benefit of you and your students.  What do you do to create your own materials or to supplement to make things fit the needs of your students?  Comment below, I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Teaching 2 - Breaking Away From the Book's Sequencing

      As we move forward in our teaching career we look back on the past and say "if I had only known then what I know now..." and have a hundred things to fill in the blank with.  While there are many things that I wish I could have a do-over on, it is what I have identified as pitfall number 2 that bothers me the most.  It is simply this:  I wish that I had known that it is preferable to deviate from the book and teach material in an order that makes more sense rather than going lock-step section by section.

       In those nervous first few years we follow the book (if we have one) because it is our lifeline.  It is what tells us where to head next and saves our sanity when we are completely overwhelmed and cannot think of one more thing before we crash from exhaustion.  So we do section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, quiz (because they book says one should fall there), 1.4....until we get through the book.  We don't realize (often because no one tells us or we are too tired to ask) that it is only a guide, not a curriculum.  I know that for years I followed it because it was all that I had.  My notes were even labeled "1.1 Title of Section".  I look back on those days and realize that while I was teaching, I was not reaching.  I was covering every topic that was on my list and getting through the whole book (most years anyway) which was seen as a win!  I was so nervous and so anxious about keeping my room quiet and under control (see pitfall one here) that I never asked myself "are they learning"?

      One day, however, as I got over my nerves, I started to realize that the ideas were so choppy and segmented that the students were struggling to make connections.  I started examining the content and not the book and came to some realizations.  I realized that there were triangles in chapters 1, 4, 7 and 9 so why not just do a unit on triangles?  Why not rearrange the order of topics so that they flow together instead of battling with each other?  I sat down and started mapping out topics and identifying what went with what and what was foundational information versus what was the next level.  Ultimately I started rearranging my entire outlook to meet the needs of the students (while still covering the curriculum).

      When I started doing this, my whole classroom changed, improved and strangely enough, I felt like a better teacher!  I felt like I was actually in control of what my students were learning and had some autonomy to try new things.  My passion for teaching was reenergized because I was again enjoying what I was doing.  Best of all - my students were happier, learning and retaining better and more effectively engaged!

I spoke with a few other teacher-authors about how they broke away from the textbook:



History Gal shared that "history's sequencing is chronological so it is difficult to deviate too much. However, as the teacher, I can decide how much to spend on each unit. This might surprise you, but there are parts of history that are boring even to history teachers! I cover those time periods quickly and spend more time on parts of history that I enjoy.

Coach Christopher from Courage To Core  shared "I like to switch things up every few years and teach at a new school, or quit and go rock climb for a year to keep things fresh. On the other hand, one way to keep some continuity for me has been to craft my own teaching materials to go alongside the school’s preferred text. The materials were adapted, refined and expanded with each new school. After 15 years (!) the texts became ancillary to my own materials which are now under the moniker Courage To Core. The evolution continues. No lock-step allowed!"




The pitfalls are there, just waiting, but hopefully together we can navigate them, avoid them or capitalize upon them to the benefit of you and your students.  How did you learn to break away from the books sequencing to using your own?  Comment below, I'd love to hear it!


Monday, October 12, 2015

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Teaching # 1 - Talking To Your Students Instead of At Them


Although  as teachers we spend many years in college learning our subject area and in teacher education classes, nothing - not even student teaching - can fully prepare you for the day that you walk into a school and have your own classroom.  Suddenly that's it.  You are in front of a room of 25 - 35 students all of whom you need to educate, engage and manage.  Unfortunately, unless you have a fantastic support system, you are likely to commit some of the common pitfalls that can make your job that much harder.  Over the next few weeks I am going to address some of these pitfalls and how to avoid them!  Additionally, I have asked some of my friends at teacherspayteachers to contribute their knowledge as well!


Topic One:  How to Talk TO your students (i.e. facilitating a discussion) instead of AT them (i.e. lecturing)! 



When we start teaching we are nervous, especially for the first year or two until we get some experience under our belts.  We want everything to go well, we want our rooms to be well managed, we want to be that super fantastic, great, wonderful, perfect teacher whose classroom looks like one of those out of a 1950's sitcom where everything is neat, tidy, with the students all raising their hands. To achieve this lofty "perfect classroom" we walk in, put the hammer down and start talking at our students through the "stand and deliver" lecture method.  We operate under the assumption that if they are silent, they are listening, learning and perfectly "under control".  Yep, sure they are. (Just like when my kids are suddenly quiet at home it means that they are being perfect angels...)   In all reality, 40% of your students are not learning anything because they don't learn that way, 50% are afraid to ask a question (or robbed of the opportunity to do so because you never pause) and 80% are about to explode from the amount of words and energy that is building up.
   
No one can sit still, silently for 45 - 60 minutes.  I know that I sure can't.  I get antsy, I start to tune out the words around me, I doddle, I start making lists, I get BORED!  Do we honestly expect our pre-teens and teens to be any different?  At the age we are when we become teachers we've learned some of the social norms, we know how to stay in our seats and at least look tuned in.  Most of the students sitting in front of us don't.  They are in ever changing bodies in an ever changing world trying to balance school, families, sports/clubs, friends, hormones and a thousand other things.  When you are trying to compete with all of that you need to teach how they learn.

So how do you do that?  How do you teach the way they learn?  Simple - you talk with them, not at them.  You allow your students to feel that they have a stake in their learning process and the ebb and flow of the classroom.

  • **  To combat their need to talk you can give them quick breaks where you say "solve this question with someone sitting next to you" or have a quick class discussion about how they see the topic (when applicable) used in the "real world".  
  • **  To combat their need to move ask students to come to the board to solve a problem or have them do a quick "think, pair, share".  
  • ** To keep them engage you can ask "what questions do you have" instead of "does anyone have any questions"?  Ask a student to explain what you just taught in their own words.  

In other words, you involve them in the lesson which gives them the opportunity to burn off some energy and raises engagement rates.  (I talk more about effective questioning here). You talk TO them and listen when they respond back.   If you ask them a question, listen, ask more questions to draw out more information, ask other students if they agree, disagree or have something to add.  You don't want to get them talking, engaging and interested to then just shut them out by not giving their responses any credence.

I spoke with a few other teacher-authors about how they made this shift:



Nikki from Teaching Autism found success when she formed relationships and explored other methods: "For me, it's very different, 99% of our children are non verbal, meaning it's very easy to talk at them rather than with them. It's great to offer choices so that they are independently making choices with you, using prompt cards (http://bit.ly/1M85eyw) to stir up a conversation - use iPad apps such as proloquo or symbol/communication books (http://bit.ly/1hhE93w) so that they are able to answer you, get them to point to an answer when you have offered them a choice. 

At first, it can be so hard, how do you make conversation with a non verbal child? It's something that doesn't come to you at first, so don't feel deflated when you feel like you're failing. It's something that definitely grows with you as your experience does. The more you learn about the children, the more you're able to talk with them, look for different signs of communication and promote communication that they look forward to. It's through this, that you start to build strong and professional relationships with your students. Once you have that strong relationship, then you're ready to tackle the teaching world!"


Coach Christopher from Courage To Core shared that the shift happens when you engage the students strengths: "For some years I worked at the amazing Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, a city where social capital is the subtext for almost every text, where all Instagram’s are about to go viral, and face to face interactions can feel a little like being added to someone’s LinkedIn network. The Archer girls spoke in emoji’s or hashtags or something—codes conveyed in a blink of an eye, because they knew each other and were utterly in their domain at Archer. In class they lunged to answer questions, to hear their voices and those of their peers, and it was a shame not to leverage their social skills to educational ends. When I transitioned primarily to group work in math class, it was as if they had been holding their breaths for a month, waiting to engage full-throated. It was a viral sensation."



It's Kinder Time feels that the shift happens when you make a connection: "I believe that the many years I spent in the city recreation program for children helped me learn how to have conversations with kiddos rather then talk at them. Over time I learned better ways to make connections. Finding out your students interests really helps make connection with them and can open many doors with parents once they see how much you really care."



The pitfalls are there, just waiting, but hopefully together we can navigate them, avoid them or capitalize upon them to the benefit of you and your students.  How did you learn to talk TO your students instead of AT them?  Comment below, I'd love to hear it!
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